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A Taste of Heaven: The Black Angels’ Clear Lake Forest EP

The Black Angels
Clear Lake Forest
Blue Horizon

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Clear Lake Forest—the title of The Black Angels’ new stunner of an EP must refer to a visionary wood, in whose shadowy, tree-shaded depths a rock-and-roll garage stands. When you listen to the seven new songs on Clear Lake Forest, you lean against the aluminum siding of this garage, just underneath the window, so that you hear all the fresh sounds pour out of the four Angels.

One of these Angels counts in opening track “Sunday Evening,” and you hear a terrific Christian Bland guitar riff that’s somehow loose and tight at the same time. Singer Alex Maas then challenges you: “What if I told you that everything you know / Isn’t even true?”

My line breaks may be wrong, but you know for sure that “challenges” is the operative word here. The Angels—from their debut LP Passover on—have always been all about challenging your beliefs and perceptions. They’re like Blake and Morrison, Burroughs and The Velvets (you know where they got their band name, right?).

“Sunday Evening”—I almost wrote “Sunday Morning,” get it?—is so cool, with its tempo changes and San Francisco-psychedelic bluesy feel, that it harkens back to both The Airplane’s 1967 masterpiece Surrealistic Pillow and The Velvets, sounding like the Lou Reed-Grace Slick love child that was never born while simultaneously pointing toward the future.

Your ears perk up even more, and you crane your neck even higher, now that The Angels have excited you enough to hear track two, the wondrous “Tired Eyes.” Drummer Stephanie Bailey creates a pounding rhythm that simply overtakes you. You feel your body move to the beat, just as your mind responds to the beauty of Maas’s vocals, which simultaneously caress you and disturb you with their distorted effects. The Angels show—as is their wont—that the beauty-ugliness dichotomy doesn’t really exist. The mind-body split, also, is so much air.


“Tired Eyes” takes you to track three, “Diamond Eyes,” which makes your back shiver and shake against that aluminum siding. Bland plays an effects-driven guitar riff, and Maas responds with a delicate vocal melody. Keyboard lines hold true and help carry this tuneful concoction. “I see stars in her eyes,” Maas sings, and Bailey plays a helluva drum pattern, driving everything home. The guitar fills are just right, and you fall in love with The Angels all over again. Just listen to the bridge and Bland ascend and descend on his guitar.

You’re shivering and shaking as an organ introduces “The Flop.” Bailey sounds like Moe Tucker on a good day, and The Angels blow you away with a loose rocker that has breaks in all the right places, as Jake Garcia’s guitar dives and swoops and that organ is just relentless. Listen to the organ solo, as Jake enunciates matters with feedback blasts. And did I mention that Maas’s vocal melody is as infectious as ever?


So The Angels are on a roll, and so are you, as somehow you enter their clear lake garage to listen to “The Occurrence at 4507 South Third Street.” Maas’s vocals drive the song. They’re complex and catchy. The keyboards are triumphant in the chorus, as are Maas’s high-register vocals. The ante is upped and positivity reigns. You feel that a keyboard groove has never been this simple or so perfect.

A weird 1950s’ ballad? That’s how you hear “The Executioner.” The lyrics sound like Johnny Cash channeling some ancient Roman hedonist philosopher. Musically, though, the tune gets beyond Johnny—and enters into a realm that only Angels occupy. It’s like The Angels deconstruct the traditional ’50s’ song, with their mind-expanding mid-song ascent into chaos and sound love.

By now, you’re floating with The Angels at the point of ecstasy—Bernini’s St. Theresa in the Santa Maria della Vitorio in Rome. The 6:36 “Linda’s Gone” takes you there with one of those lengthy tunes with which The Angels like to close their records. The song creeps along on a delicate wave of keyboards, feedback, and some Bland guitar that sounds like all the key songs on The Velvet Underground & Nico at once. The song is an amalgamation of tension and taste. It’s a beauty that can only be released in your mind, where it lingers like a clear lake on a translucent day.


By the end of Clear Lake Forest, you’re among The Angels, transformed yet again, wanting to experience the sound that only they can give you, waiting to listen to it and their entire catalog yet again—the point being that once you’re in their garage, in their presence, you’ll never want to leave. The Black Angels’ music is a taste of Heaven.